Chargers vs Jaguars Wild Card Picks and Predictions: The Finest Herb

Facing a stout run defense and awful secondary, Justin Herbert is going to be leaned on heavily by the Chargers in their Wild Card match with the Jaguars. Our NFL picks examine why his line might be a bit depressed, yielding even better value.

Last Updated: Jan 14, 2023 5:22 PM ET Read Time: 4 min

A wise man once said, “Saturday night’s alright for fighting”. And with the slimmest spread of the entire NFL Wild Card Weekend belonging to the AFC matchup between Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, we’re in for one hell of a fight on Saturday night.

The NFL betting odds have bounced between L.A. -2.5 and pick’em for this primetime dual in Duval County, with two young quarterbacks in Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence making their postseason debuts.

I run down the spread and total for this AFC Wild Card war and give my best NFL picks and predictions for Chargers vs. Jaguars on January 14.

Chargers vs Jaguars best odds

Chargers vs Jaguars Wild Card Weekend picks and predictions

Playoff bettors are always wary of banking on quarterbacks making their first postseason appearance. But when is a playoff virgin not a playoff virgin? 

Maybe when the other guy under center is also making his postseason debut and maybe when that QB is Justin Herbert.

Herbert is regarded as one of the best young passers in the NFL and has been up and down all season, with injuries to his offensive line, receiving corps, and himself tempering his early-season results. However, Herbert has been extremely sharp during the Bolts’ postseason push and presents a major step up in competition for this Jacksonville defense.

The Jaguars benefitted from a soft slate of rival QBs to close out the campaign, taking on the likes of Joshua Dobbs, Davis Mills, and Zack Wilson in the final three games of the schedule. That gave this poor pass defense a break and is skewing just how good the stop unit is entering the Wild Card Round.

On the year, Jacksonville’s passing defense sat 30th in DVOA and 17th in EPA per dropback allowed. And when the team came upon sound-to-stellar QB competition, it buckled like a discount porch swing. Jacksonville’s defense was lit up against the likes of Dak Prescott, Jared Goff, Lamar Jackson, and Patrick Mahomes between Week 10 and Week 15 – raking out 32nd in EPA per dropback during that span.

Herbert is arguably better than all but one of those guys (Mahomes, duh) and can torch this Jacksonville secondary on Saturday. His passing yards prop for the Wild Card Round has his yardage Over/Under as low as 279.5 yards — a very low number considering the defensive matchup and quality of the QB.

Herbert’s Wild Card total is tempered a bit by a few factors. For one, he’s thrown for totals of 273, 212, and 235 the past three games. That output has more to do with the Bolts owning big leads in the second half and not throwing, as much as Week 18’s run-in with the Denver pass defense (No. 7 in DVOA). Also, his Week 3 efforts against the Jags — 25 for 47 for 297 yards — came while playing with broken ribs and without Keenan Allen in the lineup.

Jacksonville was able to dominate the football in that first meeting and very much could do the same thing on Saturday, injecting the Chargers’ up-tempo offense with even more urgency if its possessions are limited. The Jags do a great job stuffing the run (No. 6 in EPA allowed per handoff), so the Chargers hopes rest on the shoulders of Herbert.

I fully expect Herbert to throw the ball well over his average of 41 pass attempts per game on Saturday, and given that Jacksonville allows 6.7 yards per attempt — an average tempered by a terrible slate of QBs in the final three games — Herbert will have no trouble getting north of 290 and will likely end up with 300-plus passing yards when the day is done.

My best bet: Justin Herbert Over 280.5 passing yards (-110 at bet365)

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Chargers vs Jaguars Wild Card Weekend spread analysis

This spread was actually on the board before the Chargers played their Week 18 finale with Denver, with the Bolts ranging from -1.5 to -2.5. 

However, while Los Angeles had nothing to play for in that final game — locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC — head coach Brandon Staley continued to play his first-teamers. And that risk bit the Bolts in the butt, with WR Mike Williams, and LBs Joey Bosa and Kenneth Murray Jr. leaving that contest with injuries. 

Those potential missing pieces slimmed this spread to Los Angeles -1.5 after Sunday’s game and continued to drop in the first 48 hours of action, falling as far as pick’em on Tuesday. But with positive news around the practice availability for those injured starters, this spread has gone back up to as high as Chargers -2.

Both teams qualified thanks to late-season surges. Jacksonville was victorious in a win-and-in game with Tennessee for the AFC South title last weekend, earning its fifth straight win entering the playoffs. Los Angeles finished strong as well, winning four in a row before dropping the meaningless Week 18 outings.

If you look at those respective runs, both the Bolts and Jags ranked out very close to each other in many advanced metrics. From Week 14 onward, Jacksonville ranked No. 7 in EPA per play — just ahead of Los Angeles at No. 8. In terms of EPA allowed per play, The Jaguars finished No. 1 in the closing five games of the season while the Chargers were No. 5 — No. 2 if you take Week 18 out of the equation.

With home field edge inside TIAA Bank Field not worth as much as other AFC venues like Orchard Park or Arrowhead Stadium, you could put this game around Los Angeles -3 or -3.5 at a neutral site. Books closed at L.A. -6.5 when it hosted Jacksonville back in Week 3.

In that meeting, the Jaguars leaned on their ground game to expose the Chargers’ terrible rushing defense, rumbling for 170 yards and eating up more than 38 minutes of possession in a 38-10 blowout road win over an injury-depleted L.A. squad that was down Allen and watched Bosa leave in the first quarter.

According to DraftKings sportsbooks, the Bolts are the popular bet with early bettors as 63% of ticket count and 65% of handle ride the lightning in the Wild Card Round. Covers Consensus shows an even 50/50 split in terms of pick count as of Wednesday morning.

Chargers vs Jaguars Wild Card Weekend Over/Under analysis

This Over/Under number opened as low as 46.5 points on Sunday night and has climbed to as high as 48 at some respected online shops, as Williams’ status looks more positive as he works his way back from a back injury in Week 18.

As mentioned, both clubs have a promising young passer under center and the offenses have flourished with their stellar play late in the season. Both Lawrence and Herbert ranked Top 10 in many QB analytics in the closing weeks of the season and lead offenses that are comfortable playing at a quicker pace, especially the Chargers, who finished second in plays per game and seventh in fewest seconds per play.

Defensively, L.A. still is susceptible to the ground and pound of the Jaguars. The Bolts own the 29th-ranked defensive run stop DVOA in the land and have allowed foes to pick up a league-high 5.4 yards per carry on the season. On the flip, Jacksonville has done well to contain runners but sits 30th in DVOA versus the pass and ranks 31st in defensive DVOA inside the red zone. We’ve also seen both the Bolts and Jags consistently burned by big plays of 20 or more yards.

The total for their Week 3 matchup in SoFi Stadium closed at 45.5 points, with the 38-10 final score just getting above that number. This time around, the game is outdoors, where the forecast in Duval County is calling for chilly temperatures in the low 30s with light winds up to 12 mph. 

This Wild Card total has climbed as much as 1.5 points despite DraftKings books reporting more action on the Under, with 52% of bets and 62% of handle banking on a lower-scoring finish. Cover Consensus is showing 53% of early picks on the Over.

Chargers vs Jaguars same-game parlay

Herbert Over 280.5 pass yards

Herbert Over 1.5 pass TDs

Ekeler anytime TD

We’re projecting big things for Herbert against this soft Jaguars secondary that hasn’t faced a QB this good in a while. He’s going to go Over his yardage prop and connect on two or more touchdown strikes — one of which could find its way to Austin Ekeler. While Jacksonville slams the door on the ground, Ekeler is a bigger threat in the passing game and a red-zone option against a Jags defense ranked 31st in RZ DVOA.

SGP odds: +300 at bet365

Learn how to bet a same-game parlay with these helpful tips and strategies.

Chargers vs Jaguars betting trend to know

Since moving back to Los Angeles in 2017, the Chargers are 30-16-5 ATS on the road, including a 7-2 ATS mark as visitors this season. Find more NFL betting trends for Chargers vs. Jaguars.

Chargers vs Jaguars game info

Location: TIAA bank Field, Jacksonville, FL
Date: Saturday, January 14, 2023
Kickoff: 8:15 p.m. ET
Opening odds: Jaguars +1, 47

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